Whether or not President Obama supports gay marriage is much ado about nothing and should be of little concern to black Christians, according to the Rev. Paul McDaniel.
"I don't hold that against him," said the longtime pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church and a former Hamilton County commissioner. "It's not one of the major issues. Too often, we've made the minor issues the major issues."
McDaniel said it won't affect his support of Obama in the presidential election and won't be a vital issue for other black voters.
The Democratic National Convention begins Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., and some have suggested that Obama's views on same-sex marriage could cost him some support among a black populace that overwhelmingly backed him in 2008.
A Pew Research Center poll in April found that 49 percent of blacks oppose legalized same-sex marriage while 39 percent support it. A plurality of whites -- 47 percent -- favored same-sex marriage, while 43 percent opposed it.
In 2008, though, also according to Pew, only 26 percent of blacks were in favor of same-sex marriage. Approximately 95 percent of U.S. black voters in 2008 cast their ballot for Obama.
In May, the president announced in an ABC News program that he thought "same-sex couples should be able to get married" after previously saying he opposed gay marriage. But on the ABC program, he said his views were personal and did not represent a policy change.
In contrast to McDaniel, other Chattanooga black ministers or black ministers with Chattanooga ties said there could be fallout over the issue.
Jacques Mack, minister of worship and arts at Hawkinsville Baptist Church, said Hawkinsville pastor Bobby L. Hampton Sr. has taken a biblical stance against the homosexual lifestyle.
"Dr. Hampton stated boldly that President Obama is totally wrong regarding homosexuality," he said.
Further, Mack said, Hawkinsville director of student development Patrick Hampton expressed a similar opinion against the president's statement in a discussion with younger members during June, which some were aware had been proclaimed as LBGT Pride Month.
Kevin L. Smith, a professor at Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and founder and former pastor of Chattanooga's Love Fellowship Church, said Obama's stance will hurt him but won't be decisive.
"I think it will harm him," he said, "but I'm not sure there's going to be a large shift to Mitt Romney. I don't know how [people not voting] will pan out."
Kathy Scott, assistant professor of social work at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the election presents a true conundrum for many blacks.
"President Obama stands for more of what the African-American community needs," she said. "But when he came out for gay marriage, it [went] against the truth of the Scripture. For some [black] Christians, their votes will change, but I'm not sure in what way. For some Christians, they're still grappling."
DENOMINATIONS HOLD FAST
The creeds of most predominantly black Christian denominations continue to take a traditional view of marriage.
A June statement by the office of the president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. affirmed "that marriage is a sacred biblical covenant between a man and a woman."
However, National Baptist Convention President Julius R. Scruggs noted that the denomination does not dictate to its autonomous local churches what position to take on issues. He added that, while there are disagreements with Obama over the issue of gay marriage, "let it be crystal clear that we are not a one-issue oriented convention."
"I trust and pray that we will not allow our president's position on marriage equality to distract or deter us from our Christian obligation and responsibility to vote in this fall's elections," the statement said. "Remember that many of our people have prayed, suffered, bled and died for us to have the right to vote."
McDaniel, whose church is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention USA, said his local church has not taken a stance on gay marriage.
"I don't personally sanction it," he said. For others, "I don't know ... it's a thing of free choice, but I have some reluctance [to support it]."
The African Methodist Episcopal Church issued a statement earlier this summer, denying that the denomination withdrew support for Obama over his support for same-sex marriage. Instead, Bishop Samuel Green Sr., president of the Council of Bishops, said the denomination does not endorse candidates for political office.
In 2004, the AME denomination unanimously voted to forbid ministers from blessing same-sex unions. The decision, it was said, was based on the fact that homosexual activity "clearly contradicts our understanding of Scripture."
Elsewhere, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, in its Social Creed, states that "sexual relations outside of marriage are contrary to the will of God, and constitute a blasphemous disregard of God's purposes for men and women."
And, according to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2004, the Church of God in Christ articulated its condemnation for homosexuality in general in a statement against marriage equality for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples.
'A DISGRACEFUL ROAD'
The Rev. William Owens, president and founder of the Memphis-based Coalition of African-Americans Pastors, said in late July he would lead a national effort to rally black Americans to rethink their overwhelming support of the president over the same-sex issue and "save the family."
"The time has come for a broad-based assault against the powers that be that want to change our culture to one of men marrying men and women marrying women," he told CNN after the launch event at the National Press Club. "I am ashamed that the first black president chose this road, a disgraceful road."
Owens, who was joined by five other black pastors at the effort's launch and who said 3,742 black pastors were on board for the anti-Obama campaign, said the president was taking the black vote for granted.
He also decried the idea of similarities between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement, an assertion made by the NAACP following the president's same-sex marriage support.
As of late last week, the coalition website (caapusa.org) did not indicate any recent updates about the anti-Obama campaign.
A Public Religion Research Institute poll earlier this summer indicated only 18 percent of blacks surveyed saw same-sex marriage as a "critical issue," putting it behind the economy, education, deficit, a growing wealth gap and immigration.
Voters interested in same-sex marriage are "quite a minority of the Baptist body," he said. The emphasis, he said, should be on "the poor and the needy."
The Rev. Roderick L. Ware, senior pastor of New Monumental Baptist Church, said his church has not taken an opinion on same-sex marriage but is guided by "biblical teaching." But he said that issue must be "juxtaposed with love" as the church endeavors to minister to the individual.
Ware said he doubted whether negative feelings his congregation members might have toward same-sex marriage would keep them from voting for Obama.
"My congregation looks at [all] issues that face Americans," he said. "We don't emphasize one sin [as worse than another]. We look at who is best suited for that position."
Mack, however, said the Bible is a clear history book that gives one particular example of the fallacy of extending same-sex rights.
"The results of passing homosexual rights in Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19] caused total destruction of their land," he said. "I do know history repeats itself."
Instead, Mack suggested people of faith should cease listening to any presidential candidate's campaign and dedicate the 30 days before the election to 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."